College Applications Done With Finesse

College acceptance has become so competitive that today’s parents and students react with anxiety at the thought of beginning a process that can seem so overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be.

Parents are a key support system, but it is crucial that the student be the one to kick it into high gear and steer toward his or her chosen goals. Parents can be the cheerleaders; kids need someone to say “you can do it.” Teenagers may balk at the amount of work required in this process, but they have to be the ones to do it. If the parent is the only one doing the work, it might be time to rethink choices or consider a “gap year.”

So, here are some tips FOR THE STUDENT to finesse those applications with confidence.

Meet Your Match
Reflect thoughtfully on your own interests and learning styles, then set about finding the best fit for you. Do not force the fit. In this preliminary stage, it is important to keep an open mind, but be realistic and discuss financial parameters and geographic realities with your parents as they can limit your choices.

With the internet to facilitate your search, the facts are at your fingertips, so do your research. Your high school guidance department has lists of helpful websites for every phase of the search and application process.

If any college fairs are available, attend and take advantage of the opportunity to talk to school representatives.

Visit Schools Virtually & Actually
What does each school have to offer you? Set aside spring break of your junior year for college visits, or visit in late August. Just be sure to go when the regular students are there so you will get a true picture of campus life.

Prepare questions ahead and take advantage of opportunities to talk with admissions representatives or university guides. Tour the buildings and grounds. Are they old, new, renovated, wired or WiFi capable? See a dorm room. Visit the library, the part of campus that will be your major concentration (if you know that already), the recreational facilities, and any other areas you might frequent — labs, for science majors, etc.

Breeze-through visits will not give you the true flavor… only the flavor that the admissions office wants you to taste. Look carefully at the school’s programs. It’s fine to be “undecided,” but if you can research a certain major, do so.

The Application
Narrow your focus. Don’t apply to a long list of schools. Apply to five or six, and treat each college individually.

Successful applications will be customized. Show them that you are their match. This takes time but yields positive results. If a faculty member wrote a book that captured your interest, discuss it in your application. Show them you care enough to delve beneath the surface.

Use this rule of thumb for the five to six applications: one or two “safety” schools, two “reality” schools, and one or two “reach” schools. Timetables for applications vary, so check the options and formulate a checklist of deadlines. Have a viable Plan B in case your first choice does not work out.

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